John Rolfe, 28 September 2015

FUEL usage claims that are “wildly inaccurate” would be punished with fines of up to $50 million under a new legislative push.

It comes as fresh research finds technology such as ‘stop-start’ engines does more to boost lab test results than real-world efficiency and the federal government begins an investigation into the reliability of consumption claims.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is leading the legislative push, with discrepancies of more than 10 per cent to trigger action. He also wants owners compensated.

“Motorists have been treated like mugs for too long,” Senator Xenophon said.

He was spurred into action by a News Corp Australia report revealing actual consumption was as much as 133 per cent higher than claimed and that motorists faced annual bowser bills up to $800 more than expected.

As things stand, a dodgy usage claim would only come to light if an audit by the Federal Government led the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to launch action for misleading conduct. The ACCC yesterday said it had never taken such action. Senator Xenophon said his proposed amendment would make it easier for the ACCC and individual consumers to do so when fuel figures were “wildly inaccurate”.

He also said testing needed to be changed to reflect “typical road use and driving” — a shift supported by the nation’s leading consumer group, Choice, which is launching a major campaign in response to the News Corp Australia revelations. It wants independent testing — at the moment it is done by the car makers in labs with the wheels spinning on rollers — as well as a fuel efficiency standard.

Australia is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t mandate a minimum performance, Choice campaigns director Matt Levey said.

“We think that’s an absolute farce,” he said.

Mr Levey said there would be less concern if all cars’ results were out by the same amount.

“But they are inconsistent — and growing,” he said, which suggesting ‘gaming’ of the system by some manufacturers.

Research published this month by the Berlin-based International Council on Clean Transportation found the gap had increased from approximately 8 per cent in 2001 to 40 per cent in 2014.

Half of that 40 per cent came from exploiting lab test “loopholes”, with another tenth due to switching off air-conditioning, entertainment systems and other electronics. New technology, such as stop-start engines, made a bigger difference in the lab than the real world, ICCT said.

It was specifically referring to carbon dioxide emissions, not efficiency, but noted: “Because CO2 and fuel consumption are directly proportional, any discrepancy between type-approval and real-world CO2 emissions translates into an equivalent discrepancy in nominal and real-world fuel consumption.”

One set of German data analysed by ICCT found brands that were closer to the mark included Toyota and Skoda. The biggest difference was for Mercedes-Benz.

Another set favoured Citroen, Peugeot and Fiat brands such as Jeep and Alfa Romeo, while General Motors, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo did worst.

The federal minister responsible for efficiency testing, Paul Fletcher, said he had asked the Department of Infrastructure to “investigate”.

Extracted in full from the Courier Mail.